First Aid Unit Problems

Town Topics
Wednesday, March 28, 1979

1st Aid Unit Hindered in Answering Daytime Calls by Manpower Shortage

The First Aid and Rescue Squad’s daytime manpower shortage will be the principal item up for discussion this Wednesday at 5 at the Princeton Medical Center.

The meeting will be the seventh of the Joint First Aid and Rescue Squad Committee formed last spring to help the Squad address a number of problems. The executive committee of the Medical Center’s medical and dental staff and members of the hospital administration will be on hand to discuss ways in which the Center can also be represented on the Joint Committee.

The daytime manpower problem was brought home vividly to the Medical Center in recent weeks when the Squad had to refuse a request from John W. Kauffman, hospital administrator, to transport his secretary to a Philadelphia hospital during the daytime. Mr. Kauffman had to enlist a neighboring squad to take the call instead.

“We’ve always had a daytime crunch,” says Ed Obert, a seven-year member of the Squad and captain for the past three years. “We used to have a nucleus of members who worked in town. They would close the store and take the call.” ‘
The problem today is that most of the 35 senior members live and work out of town. Others are University or Seminary students who are not available during exams and vacations and who eventually graduate and have to be replaced. There is no problem during the evenings and on weekends when there are so many members at the Squad house “it is like a club down here and I have to kick some of them out,” Mr. Obert says.

Another facet of the manpower problem is the degree of training required today. It used to be that an ambulance was thought of primarily as a means of taking a sick person to the hospital.

Squad members today are trained, and the ambulance is equipped as a lifemobile, to bring emergency room care to the patient and to stabilize his condition before the ride to the hospital. It takes a minimum of 100 hours training to become an emergency medical technician and another 600 hours to become a paramedic who can administer such things as cardiac monitoring equipment and act on instructions given by phone by an emergency room physician.

When a call comes in during the daytime, the Township, which has recently agreed to pick up the cost of its direct line to the Squad house, will “put out the tones” to see which members are available. The Medical Center has agreed to release Mary Ann Henderson, its employee who is one of the three specially trained paramedics on the Squad roster, for calls. Mark Freda, who works at Princeton University, John Boles of Textile Research Center, and Charles Gentillian, who is self-employed at Princeton Shopping Center TV, also can take some daytime calls. And Joe Derman, president of the Squad and another paramedic can “occasionally” leave ETS.

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First Aid Unit Problems
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“Now we have five people,” Mr. Obert says, “and we are going to try to take daytime emergency calls – not transportation calls – we haven’t been doing them except evenings and weekends for several years.” He also points out that the burden for daytime response is on a handful of employers in town. He thinks the only way to guarantee service in the daytime is to do what several area squads have done, hire a paid paramedic and a technician during working hours at a cost of around $12,000 a year each.

Financial Woes, Too. Mr. ; Obert sighs and adds. “We have trouble as it is, paying our light bill. The money has to come from somewhere.” The squad’s financial difficulties have also been among the topics of discussion at the Joint Committees meetings.

Over its 40-year history, the Princeton First Aid Squad has relied on voluntary contribution as its sole source of income, and it has enjoyed the support of generous and grateful benefactors. The fund drive annually has been bringing in between $40,000 and $50,000, which used to take care of capital improvements as well as operating expenses.

At the moment, Mr. Obert says the Squad is out of debt for the first time since 1974. But there is only $2,500 on hand now – about what is spent in a month except in the summer when the heat is not so high -, and there is nothing more coming in until the September fund drive. He expects to have to go to the bank in April or May this year when in the past he could put it off until July.
“Income has not gone up as inflation has,“ Mr. Obert says, “and philanthropy is on a decline, as is volunteerism.”

“Doc” Lenhart and BUI Wilson lent their professional expertise to this year’s fund drive, with improved results, and will also direct a program for capital funds with which to replace one ambulance.

Municipal Help Needed. “We are proud of the fact that this community has supported us for 40 years without resorting to tax dollars,” Mr. Obert declared. But he thinks there are ways the municipalities could aid the Squad and some of his suggestions have been taken up. The Township is providing snow removal in front of the building in addition to police dispatching, and the Borough has agreed to place a request for the purchase of gas at the Borough’s pump and at the Borough’s cost on the agenda for a council meeting.

The Squad also proposes that the Borough and Township contribute $22,000 toward the $38,000 cost of replacing the older ambulance. The Squad itself has set aside $16,000 toward the new vehicle. Other communities contribute in various ways to their squads, from providing paid drivers, free gas and workmen’s compensation to giving direct outlays for operating expenses.

About Those Tax Dollars. These squads are all independent and all own their own equipment. Mr. Obert thinks the Princeton Squad might jeopardize its volunteer contributions if it accepted tax money for operating expenses.

The fact that for the first time in 40 years the Squad has been meeting with community representatives to seek ways to improve the stability and service of the Squad has helped. But the daytime manpower shortage remains an acute problem.

“What the community wants, we’ll provide,” Mr. Obert says, “whether it is using paid drivers during the daytime or relying on neighboring squads. We’ve been lucky so far that a real tragedy has not occured, because we could not meet an emergency situation in the daytime.’’

—Barbara L. Johnson

Photo Caption:

SQUAD STALWARTS: Ed Obert, captain of the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad, stands next to the ambulance the Squad purchased In May 1974. State law requires replacing old ambulances every five years, and the Squad would like to purchase a truck-type modular vehicle similar to its lifemobile, with room Inside for sophisticated mobile intensive care equipment.

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